Thursday, October 29, 2009

Background of Ultra Distance Triathlons - Moving beyond the Ironman

I have been competing in triathlons for 24 years with a focus over the last 5 years toward Ultra-Distance triathlons. I have competed in several Double Ultra competitions and last year completed the Quintuple Ironman (5 Ironmans continuous). This year’s focus is the DECA Triathlon (10 full triathlons – 1 per day for 10 straight days) in Monterrey Mexico.

History: The first Double Triathlon competition (4.8 miles swimming, 224 miles biking, 52.4 miles running) was held in Huntsville, Alabama in 1984. As the Ironman has become very popular in the U.S.A., the ultra-distance race scene has been adopted primarily in Europe. Over the last several years, our only Double/Triple Triathlons in the United States (Virginia) has been sold out. There has been an increase in entries and interest in the longer distance races as many individuals want an experience a challenge beyond the Ironman distance.

There is a governing body for ultra-distance triathlons - International Ultra Triathlon Association, Check out the website for information about the 6 races included in the World Cup series.

Most popular international IUTA race distances include the following:

1. Double Triathlon – 4.8 miles swimming, 224 miles biking, 52.4 miles running
2. Triple Triathlon – 7.2 miles swimming, 336 miles biking, 78.6 miles running

Other Distances – The following series of races are held annually in Mexico (November) (the DECA Triathlon would be considered the “Hawaii” of ultra-distance races)

3. Quadruple Triathlon – 9.6 miles swimming, 448 miles biking, 104 miles running
4. Quintuple Triathlon – 12 miles swimming, 560 miles biking, 131 miles running
5. DECA Triathlon - 24 miles swimming, 1112 miles biking, 262 miles running

The races in Mexico change the format each year from a continuous race to an “Ironman distance per day” format. For example, the 2008 DECA Triathlon was continuous, thus 24 miles swimming followed by the 1112 miles of biking and finishing with an “easy” 262 miles of running. The 2009 race will be in the “Ironman per day for 10 days format”. Each race has its own difficulties with sleep deprivation for the continuous vs. the recovery needed each day after sleeping in the per day format.

As the popularity has increased in the U.S.A. from athletes, recently Inside Triathlon magazine included an entire article about last year’s DECA Triathlon from Mexico.

Very similar to the ultra running races across the county, these ultra-triathlons have very relaxed “family” atmospheres prior to and after the events (it’s all out racing when the gun fires). It’s been a pleasure meeting all the individuals from different cultures, and to learn from the European training and nutrition programs.

One interesting aspect of these races is that they are all “circuit” courses. It would be very difficult to close down roads, having police for intersections for 20+ hours so the majority of the swimming is done in a pool, the biking and running sections are held on short loops that range from 1.2 miles to 5 miles. It’s a very different type of racing and mental strength like 24 hour running races is crucial for a strong race performance.